Everyone is familiar with many of the common causes of house fires…smoking in bed, unattended candles, or even kitchen mishaps. But, are you aware of another leading cause of fires in the home? This one has four legs, a tail and might be your best friend!
By: Dr. Jim Humphries, Veterinary News Network
Like many dogs, Lucy had a passion for chocolate. She doesn’t know it’s not good for her – the Labrador/Basset mix only knows that it tastes yummy and she will do anything to get some! So, when owner Kay was at work one day, she had no idea that Lucy’s passion and energy would lead to a near disaster!
Kay left some chocolate cake up on the counter and Lucy was determined to make it her own. In doing so, she ignited the burner on the stove. The heat melted the plastic cover of the cake pan, filling the home with light smoke.
The US Fire Administration (usfa.dhs.gov) states more than 500,000 structural fires occur annually, taking more than 3,000 lives, including about 100 firefighters. Top causes of home fires include open flames and accidents in the kitchen. What’s even more interesting is that more than 900 fires each year can be attributed to pets!
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Dogs and cats are very inquisitive creatures by nature and, like Lucy, will often persist in attempts to reach some sort of favored food item. These two attributes can lead to problems when combined with unattended candles, or open heat sources, like kerosene lanterns. Pets can easily knock these items over or ignite nearby material, causing a fire to spread.
All across North America, headlines show stories similar to Lucy’s. From dogs locking owners out of the house while fish is frying to many displaced candles, our pets are implicated in fires more often than people realize. Sadly, it is estimated that more than 500,000 pets are affected by fire each year and many of these will lose their lives.
Although a few pets wake the family and end up as heroes in these stories, many become fearful and try to hide. Others are left home alone and no one is there to rescue them, despite shrieking smoke alarms. For our cats, the excessive noise may even provoke a flight response to a hiding place where they feel safe and may not easily be found.
Thankfully, you can reduce the risk of a fire and injury or death of your pet by taking a few common sense precautions.
First, never leave any open flame unattended. If you are leaving the house for any reason, extinguish all candles and turn off open flame space heaters and/or stoves.
Next, consider keeping your pet confined when you are gone. A dog in a cage is unlikely to create a situation like Lucy’s near disaster. Walk through your home with an eye towards “pet proofing” and preventing accidental fires.
Invest in a home monitoring system that can alert the fire department, even when you aren’t home. Thankfully, in Lucy’s case, her owners had added monitoring protection to their alarm system. Firefighters were dispatched and arrived at the home quickly, only to find the heavy smoke indicative of a large fire. The captain of the engine called for two more fire trucks, fearing that the fire was beyond what his team could handle.
Upon entry to the home, Lucy was immediately rescued and the firefighters were able to extinguish the fire without the use of hoses. The fire was contained to the kitchen because of the quick response of fire fighters, due in part to the monitoring system.
Experts at the National Volunteer Fire Council (nvfc.org) also recommend the use of window clings that can help alert rescuers to the presence of pets in the home. Some people will even go as far as to place their pet’s cage within site of the front door to make rescue even easier.
Each year on July 15th, the American Kennel Club (akc.org) along with the National Volunteer Fire Council and ADT Security Services work to raise awareness to help prevent needless pet suffering from house fires. Check with your veterinarian and/or local fire department to find out how to obtain the window clings or visit www.adt.com to get a free one.
Thankfully, in Lucy’s case, damage was minimal and Lucy is just fine. But, many pets aren’t so lucky, suffering from smoke inhalation, burns or much worse. Learn to keep your pets safe by following the above guidelines.